So when DID you stop beating your spouse?

That’s the position the New Mexico Center on Law & Poverty put to anyone and everyone — anywhere in the United States — in agriculture during testimony on Senate Bill 244, the workers’ compensation ag exemption bill, during the 2016 Legislature. According to Gale Evans (no relation to Dale that we can find), the Legal Director of the Center since 2004, stated with great force that agricultural workers’ comp exemptions were created in the Reconstruction Era in the South (following the Civil War). Through these exemptions, agriculture has maintained slave labor since that time.

She continued her lengthy diatribe stating that according to her math, that based on New Mexico’s agricultural income, workers’ comp insurance only costs one percent of the billions that the industry makes annually. Apparently lawyers are not held to any standard for honesty or integrity.

During the hearing one senator who has an agricultural background did gently call her on the slave statement. Although clearly that senator understands the costs associated with workers’ comp insurance for at the least the farming segment of ag, he refrained from commenting on that portion of Evan’s testimony.

But she didn’t get away scot-free. Several days after the hearing, the Center and its director who is ill, was honored on the Senate Floor. Senator Pat Woods appropriately spoke about the Center’s director, but then took the opportunity to point out what the Center had said about slavery noting that such statements are completely disrespectful.

It wasn’t long before another senator spoke, attempting to set aside the slavery comment, saying something to the effect that young, ambitious lawyers getting ahead of themselves. Unfortunately that doesn’t apply to Evans. According to the Center’s website, Evans has 25 years of legal experience, all of which has been devoted to representing low-income individuals and families. (Sort of sounds like my last 25 years… without the law degree.)

I do want to note that the term “scot-free” has nothing to do with the slavery. “Scott free” actually pre-dates the Dred Scott Supreme Court ruling in 1857 by a very large margin (having been around since at least the 11th century). Another common misconception is that the phrase has some association with the Scottish. In fact, “scot”, in this case, is from the Old Norse word “skot” meaning something to the effect of “payment” or “contribution”.  In English, “scot” initially just meant “tax”.

Many thanks to Senator Steve Neville who carried the bill.

Workers’ Comp Update

You can imagine that after Evan’s outrageous testimony there was a pall over the proposed agricultural exemption in the Legislature. The bill did pass out of the Conservation Committee without recommendation on a close vote. The next committee was the Senate Judiciary Committee that has many of the same members as the Conservation Committee. It was clear that the bill wasn’t going far and it was let die.

But there was some great news at the end of the Session. It was learned that on February 15, 2016 the New Mexico Supreme Court issued a stay on any action by the Workers’ Compensation Administration (WCA) in enforcement until the Supreme Court rules on the case. There are only educated guesses as to when that might be. Some expect the Court to hear the case in late Spring or early Summer with a final ruling to come sometime after that.

Of course the Center has filed a motion with the Supreme to reconsider their stay. Again it is anybody’s guess what the Court will do, but since the issue of the stay has been in front of them for several months, one would hope that they will stand their ground.

Right to Farm

Workers’ comp was just one of four issues members of the agricultural community had on their agenda heading into Santa Fe in January. Unfortunately only one of those had a positive outcome.

Despite the bests efforts of the Center and Animal Protection Voters, the lobbying arm of Animal Protection of New Mexico, agriculture pulled together to get Senate Bill 72, Right to Farm, passed and signed.

The bill made a small change in the current right to farm statute directing the courts to consider the nature and scope of an operation in determining if there is nuisance or temporary nuisance. The bill flew out of its first committee, Senate Conservation, after some atypical moves.

During a committee hearing the chairman of the committee generally calls for those who support and oppose the measure being considered. Usually it is the supporters who speak first, but that is solely left to the discretion of the chairman.

Heretofore the opposition to change of the right to farm statute has come from the trial lawyers. To avoid conflict during the Session, there was negotiation with the trial lawyers on the bill well prior to the Legislature. The trial lawyers agreed not to oppose the bill.

On hearing day when there was no opposition, the chairman as for those who neither supported nor opposed to speak. A few folks said they had no opposition to the bill. An Animal Voters employee sat silent throughout the hearing.

The bill moved on to the Judiciary Committee where it was a whole new ballgame. Animal Protection Voters, the Center on Law & Poverty, and another group or two vehemently opposed the bill demanding that the new language read “nature or scope.” Although there were attempts to amend the measure, it moved on to the Senate Floor intact.

On the Floor there was another huge move to get the bill amended before it passed to the House. The activism that took place on the floor was like none I have seen. There were eight to ten people from the Animal Voters and the Center trolling every senator numerous times. We were doing the same thing, only there were less of us and we limited our contacts with each senator to a single explanation of the bill. With bi-partisan support, the bill passed the Senate.

It was then on to the House Agriculture, Water & Wildlife Committee that quickly passed it on to the Floor. The scene on the House Floor was similar to the Senate. The bill passed the House with an even greater margin and bi-partisan support.

Despite a large amount of pressure on the Governor, including an op-ed piece in the Albuquerque Journal, at press time all indications are that she will sign the bill.

Many thanks to the Senate Minority Floor Leader Stuart Ingle who carried the bill as well as all those senators and representatives who withstood the pressure and made this bill a reality.

Gross Receipts on Access
for Hunting & Fishing

Senate Bill 294, introduced by Senator Carlos Cisneros, provided an exempt for landowners from gross receipts tax on granting access for hunting and fishing. The bill made it out of its first committee, but died in Senate Finance due to the huge budget shortfall the state is facing.

The option of litigation remains open and is being explored at this time. Stay tuned for further information. If you have individual questions, please contact the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association (NMCGA) at 505/247-0584 or email nmcga@nmagriculture.org .

Beef Council Checkoff Enhancement

Senator Pat Woods introduced Senate Bill 65 that would have provided for an additional voluntary dollar to be collected by the New Mexico Beef Council. The Council’s budget has dwindled to the point that many of its’ finest programs have been eliminated due to funding.

In addition to providing the ability to collect an additional refundable dollar, the measure also provided for the option of completely opting out by providing a form at the time of brand re-record every three years. Although the 2016 bill offered everything the dairy industry requesting, they withheld support, but did not oppose it.

The stumbling block was the Governor’s office that deems any checkoff as tax. We were unable to get the Governor to put the issue on her call. The bill never moved out of the Senate Committee on Committees.

It is worth again pointing out that the only bill that all of agriculture supported was right to farm — and we got it done. If we cannot learn to work together for the good of all, there is little hope of making change.

Again … Wolves

In late February the New Mexico Game Commission held a special meeting to consider whether or not to allow a permit to Turner Ranch to house wolves from Washington as they travel to a new home in Mexico. Given that one of the questions we have been asking is why wolf reintroduction has not been taking place in Mexico, despite the fact that the majority of their habitat is in that country, it is hard to oppose the plan.

The Commission approved the permit, which is in keeping with their request to do more work in Mexico. Although there was every indication that the permit would be approved, the wolfies were out in force to bash the Commission and ranchers. My favorite was the guy who testified that it was the Commission who was in danger of extinction because only four percent of New Mexicans hunt and the rest support wolves. Unfortunately he didn’t cite any research to support his statement. And when you consider that this is the same guy who testified in a legislative hearing a few years ago that the killing of coyotes leads directly to the serial murder of children… you just have to consider the source.

There was the whining that ranchers are ripping off the public with grazing fees. Apparently he hasn’t picked up on the fact that the formula driven federal and state trust land fees have gone up by 25 and 24 percent respectively this year.

Ooops …

I have had several folks ask recently when the Mid Year Meeting in Ruidoso is going to be held. I fear I have erred. The actual dates are June 12 through 14. If I have misled you, please change your calendars, be they electronic or paper.

The Home Coming

The 2016 Joint Stockmen’s Convention will be going home to the Crowne Plaza Hotel (formerly the Hilton) at University and Menaul. There will be lots more news about the convention in the months to come, but you can start staying at the Crowne Plaza for the same great rates we have had. Just mention that you are a NMCGA member to get $81 + tax rooms. The Association has a $62 + tax rate at the adjacent Fairfield Inn.